When NBC picked the Washington Capitals and defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks to air for their Game of the Week, they would have been ecstatic if the game was as entertaining as last year's thriller. The suits got exactly what they wanted with the two teams playing exciting, fast-paced hockey that, like last year, had to be settled in overtime. And once again it was the Caps that had just a little bit more, with a rookie (Marcus Johansson) making a great pass to a wily veteran (Mike Knuble), who then cleverly deposited the puck in the net with just over one minute remaining in overtime for a thrilling 4-3 Caps victory. The hottest team in the NHL (Caps) now extends their winning streak to eight, and the former hottest team in the NHL (Hawks) heads home after their third consecutive loss, a mere eight days after having rattled off eight wins in a row.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Mike Knuble started the game poorly by taking a bad penalty. It ended up tilting the ice for the first five minutes of the game as the Hawks outshot the Caps 6-1. The pressure ultimately led to the Hawks first goal, albeit a poor one that squeaked through Braden Holtby. But Knuble more than made up for it with the game-winner.
- Moments after the Caps surrendered their first goal, Chicago allowed a bad goal to Boyd Gordon on a
change-upslapshot that fooled Blackhawk goalie, Corey Crawford. It was only Gordon's third goal of the season, but a deserving one for a player who brings an "A" effort just about every night. By trading away Dave Steckel the Caps have made a committment to Boyd Gordon, and he's responded by going +3, chipping in two goals and leading the PK unit in his past seven games.
- On paper, Braden Holtby did not have a good game as he allowed two softies. Some young goalies would have folded after the second one; Holtby didn't, only allowing one more goal on a 4-on-6 penalty kill with under a minute left. One thing Holtby no doubt has is a mental toughness, arguably the most sought-after trait for an NHL-caliber goalie.
- The temporary unification of Brooks Laich centering Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera is an odd trio, essentially three wingers playing on the third line. Yet, this line generated scoring chances, won the CORSI battle and scored the Caps third goal. Once again, the diversity of Brooks Laich's game pays dividends for the Caps.
- Speaking of Chimera, three times he used his speed and went hard to the net, twice knocking into Crawford. The Blackhawks took exception to the last one and Chimera ended up dancing with Brent Seabrook. The winner? Hands down, Jason Chimera. The Hawks were already missing a defenseman (Brian Campbell) and Chimera helped remove another very good defenseman (Seabrook) from the game for five (actually, seven) minutes, enough for the Caps to score their third goal.
- Mike Milbury "loves" the new Washington Capitals. There is a pig somewhere sprouting wings.
- Alex Ovechkin was buzzing all afternoon, putting up six shots on goal. Yet, he didn't produce any points, and credit has to be given to Hawk defenders Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. Not ony did they keep Ovi off the scoreboard, they did it without taking any penalties against him.
- Meanwhile, the Caps defense had a very good day, holding Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp to 10 collective shots. Take away the two softies and the Caps defense was only responsible for a single goal, which came on a two-man disadvantage. Folks, as talented as the three young Capital goalies are, this revamped Caps defense is making life much easier for them.
- Both teams notched one power play goal today. The question that should be asked is how the Hawks earned five penalties to the Caps three, including a dubious late-game call that Marian Hossa sold as much as he earned. The Hawks simply didn't outplay the Caps today and didn't deserve two more power play opportunities.
- No doubt, Jason Arnott playing the point on the first-team power play unit has yielded improved results. There are reasons for this. Arnott has a quick release on his shot; he shoots it low, hard and accurate; he shoots frequently; and he plays back at the blue line. That last characteristic is important, as Arnott forces the defending PK forwards to cover more ice, thus freeing up more space for the Capital forwards at the half-wall and below. Result: more shots on net, more goals.
Something is different about this team. They're playing with confidence. They're no longer getting out-hustled. They're scoring. It's all coming together at the right time. The result is their eighth straight win against a very good Blackhawks team, and they did it without their top center, top defenseman and with their third-string goalie in net. The win extends the Caps division lead to five points over Tampa, a much-need cushion considering the Caps are set to embark on a brutal six-game road trip, with five of the six games against teams in the playoff hunt. It also puts the Caps right on the heels of the Philadelphia Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference, a team they will face-off against in nine days. Buckle up Caps fans, the next few weeks are going to be very interesting!